Virgilio Elizondo: In Memoriam.


In light of Father Virgilio Elizondo’s life, there is much praise to be given to God for a remarkable man. As a young Mexican American boy, Virgilio learned to straddle both the Mexican and American cultures with astute sensitivity and managed to live in the periphery of both.  As a priest, his pastoral sensibilities recognized the needs of the marginalized and gave voice to those deemed invisible, making him a beloved and respected leader. By the 70’s he became the Father of Hispanic Latino theology in the US and founded the Mexican American Catholic Center.  He later earned his PhD at L’Institute Catolique in Paris and named the cultural mestizaje of Jesus in a way that provided profound correlational impact to a diverse community of Catholics around the world. In the 80’s Virgilio co-founded the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians in the US, and his writing engendered a renewed understanding of the reconciliatory impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Morenita, as a patron of the Americas.  Those who knew him acknowledge that Virgil was as adept at hosting an American President, or a pope, as he was attending to the pastoral needs of a prostitute or a peasant.  Virgil was a true pastor and a leader, a friend in word and deed.

Last May however, while on the last day of his retreat in Rome, Father Virgilio Elizondo was named as a secondary perpetrator in a sexual molestation case which allegedly occurred 30 years prior, to an orphaned boy who remains unidentified. Virgil adamantly denied any wrong doing and no evidence was ever brought forth to confirm the allegations that were primarily levied against a former priest, who no longer resides in the US.  Furthermore, no other allegations came forth implicating Father Elizondo throughout the period of intense investigation which is commonplace amongst sexual perpetrators. So it was that a modern day Calvary began for a beloved priest, who endured trials and tribulations with no apparent end in sight. Agonized by his lot and desirous of his priestly reinstatement he met with Archbishop Siller for dinner the Sunday before he took his life. Apparently the pastoral outlook on Virgil’s life was not was not going to change—his Calvary was ongoing.  So it was that this dinner became his last supper.  That night Father Virgilio, went back to his San Antonio home to endure his own Gethsemane. One can only imagine the cries of supplication of an innocent man less afraid to die than to live this perpetuated agony. 

On Monday someone called the San Antonio police to report a shooting at his property, 10 minutes later he was found dead by police, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  A truly lamentable moment for the Church which is currently reflecting on Luke’s gospel, both chapters 22 and 23, where Jesus is handed over to the political authorities of his time and neither Pontius Pilate nor Herod find sufficient evidence to convict him of any crime so they flogged him and plan to release him, but the chief priests and scribes continued to accuse him, and fearful of the crowds allowed him to be crucified.  Pleading for mercy they washed their hands of the innocent man and released a murderer instead. It is striking how doing nothing always yields something. Striking too how fear always finds a way diminish life.  This case is no different.  The gospel tells us, not to be afraid, yet it is often fear that leads to the cowardice that engenders such tragic realities. There is much to lament, and much to discern from this lamentation.

 Thus, our pleading begins.  In faithful supplication we ask, O death where is your sting?  When will your sting awaken the conscience that acts with Love? Where do we search for the answers that lead to redemption? How long O Lord, do we cry for justice, knowing that it is not mercy we seek, but truth?  How long O Lord, must we lament the injustices that plague our Church because she fails to understand the difference between covering and defending? How many more of our own must we as a Church sacrifice who bear false accusations, before we find the courage to act virtuously and say Enough!—Ya Basta!  ?  Knowing that his hour had come, Jesus breathed his last and said, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  In faithful supplication we ask the same for our brother Virgil— Abba, receive into your loving embrace a favored son, our beloved brother, Virgil.

Elsie Miranda,
Barry University

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